Seems like the end of summer break from posting is unavoidable. Over the past couple weeks I’ve been in Little Compton with my family and attended an awesome wedding in the Poconos. While I have been cooking a lot there haven’t been too many interesting meals.
That all changed when we hit the fish market in Tiverton, RI on our way back from visiting my aunts in Jamestown last week. I immediately noticed something I’d never cooked or eaten before sitting in a container next to the clams and mussels. The guy behind the counter called them conch, but they were smaller and seemingly had a much thinner shell than what I would traditionally call conch. They looked a lot more like large sea snails (or whelks).
The seafood purveyor wasn’t too helpful on cooking instructions either, instructing me to “cook them” when I asked the best way to prepare them. So, as usual, I would be on my own and looking to the internet for these.
The general instructions broke down to boiling or steaming the whelks for a few minutes then removing them from their shell and discarding the inedible parts. Other than that, you just slice and use them like any other shellfish. With that in mind, I decided to make whelk & shrimp fritters and a whelk chowder, but since I’ve covered the fritter angle pretty well previously, I will focus on the chowder in this entry.
The next morning (I was told they keep well overnight in the fridge) I got started by cleaning the whelks and placing them in a steamer pot.
I let these steam for about 8 minutes then took them off the heat and removed the cover to let them cool for 20 minutes to make them easier to handle.
When it came time to shell the whelks it became clear that the hard foot wasn’t an issue and peeled right off.
Once the foot was gone the meat was easily removed by sticking a fork in the dense meat near the opening and pulling out slowly.
The contents of the shells quickly piled up on the plates, and the meat was a bizarre mix of photogenic and unappetizing.
I rinsed any sediment off of each piece and then started separating the edible parts from the inedible parts of each whelk. Thank god for the internet or else I likely would have eaten the whole thing and gotten sick.
Final step in preparing the whelks was also well documented by Kristi.
After repeating this process with each whelk, I finally decided to cut a sliver off and taste. The flavor was strong, in a good way, like a combination of a fully cooked bay scallop and a clam belly but the meat was also extremely rubbery and chewy.
From there, all of the meat went into a sandwich bag for storage until it was time to cook the chowder later in the day.
The chowder is a variation of the clam chowder I have been making with Tim the past couple years (read: I chopped the clams and he followed a recipe). Since he was refusing to help, I had some freedom to stray from the recipe. Instead of starting with the usual bacon, I browned a cubed link of chorizo and added chopped onion, carrot, and celery along with salt and pepper.
After a few minutes cooking together, I whisked in flour, a quart of seafood stock, sherry, fresh thyme, and a couple bay leaves. After that simmered for 10 minutes or so, I added cubed red potatoes.
While the potatoes cooked for about 10 minutes, I cut the whelk meat down to bite-sized pieces. Due to the chewiness of the whelk, I wanted to keep them small and thin.
I ended up adding about half of the chopped whelk meat for the chowder and using the other half in the whelk and shrimp fritters.
Along with the whelk I stirred in some heavy cream and about a cup and a half of 1% milk to get the chowder to the color and consistency I was looking for. That simmered for a few minutes and then I removed it from the heat to be reheated a few hours later with dinner.
Or at least that was the plan. Tim threw a tantrum because he was making ribs for dinner and thought that the chowder wouldn’t go well with the pork. So he demanded I make fritters instead. Freakin’ jerk.
The chowder went into the fridge and waited to be reheated the following day for lunch. It ended up working out pretty well, and gave me the opportunity to add the kernels from an ear of corn and some more sherry as well.
The chowder likely benefited from a night in the fridge since the flavors had more time to come together, but it didn’t change the fact that there were a lot of textures in each bowl. The veggies, chorizo, and whelk all were very different and each bite had a little of each. The whelk was almost the texture of a sliced bouncy ball, but the pieces were small enough that a couple chews and they were gone.
Overall, the flavor of the whelk was hidden a bit in the chowder, so it mostly just tasted like a clam chowder. The fritters had a lot more of the clam belly/cooked scallop flavor I mentioned earlier. Despite the lack of whelk-y, the chowder was pretty delicious and all 12 bowls of it went quickly.
Not sure what will be next, but I hope to be cooking more with summer travel done.